Quotulatiousness

July 24, 2014

“Never give up, never surrender!” – the oral history of Galaxy Quest

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:28

Hands down, my favourite Star Trek movie was Galaxy Quest:

And now, MTV has the story behind the story:

Galaxy Quest: The Oral History
By Grabthar’s Hammer, the sci-fi comedy classic is turning 15. Here’s the untold story of how it got made.

Galaxy Quest was only a modest success in theaters (pulling in $71 million at the domestic box office). Over time, however, it has become a cult favorite – a film virtually everyone loves, one of those flicks you see when flipping channels and immediately get caught in its tractor beam. (Not that the movie has tractor beams – that would be too close to Star Trek.)

In honor of the almost 15th anniversary of the movie (it was released in December, 1999), MTV News checked back in with the entire cast and creators of Galaxy Quest: Tim Allen as the obnoxious Captain; Alan Rickman as the humiliated thespian relegated to rubber makeup; Sigourney Weaver, an actress given nothing to do but show her cleavage; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, the former child star. Tony Shalhoub, playing a stoner who is supposed to be the sharp chief engineer; Sam Rockwell as some guy named Guy; and many, many more. What we came away with is, in the cast and crew’s own words, the story of how the crew of the Protector came together – and how things changed as the movie grew to be the phenomenon it is today.

[...]

Rockwell: Sigourney Weaver changed with that wig.

Rickman: I remember Sigourney walking around saying that she was experiencing a new world with the blonde wig.

Johnson: Sigourney loved her extenuated bosom and blonde wig. She’d sometimes leave at the end of the day dressed up like that. She’d just go to her hotel with the enhanced breasts and padding and all squeezed in and it was fun.

Weaver: Blondes definitely have more fun. I loved being a starlet. I miss my breasts, I miss my blonde hair, I miss my insecurity.

[...]

Rockwell: I wanted to ennoble the coward archetype. I thought of the best cowards in cinematic history, like John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing. When we did the shuttle scene I drank four cups of coffee and downed two Excedrin. I wanted to be so hyped that I would have a nervous breakdown on the shuttle. I don’t know if it worked but I was very hyper and freaking out. I think I had a couple beers to come down.

Mitchell: Sam Rockwell in this movie, man. I die every time. “Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?”

Johnson: “Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?” That’s my favorite moment.

Rockwell: Guy is a cheeseball. And a Trekkie geek. But he’s a coward. My template was Bill Paxton in Aliens mixed with Michael Keaton in Night Shift.

July 13, 2014

A handy rule of thumb when Obama speaks

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:03

From this week’s Goldberg File email from Jonah Goldberg:

I think I’ve stumbled onto a handy heuristic — or, if that word makes you want to smash my guitar on the Delta House wall, rule of thumb — for listening to Obama. Whenever he talks about himself, immediately flip it around so he’s saying the opposite. Think about it. “I’m not interested in photo-ops.” Boom. Translation: “I think photo-ops are really, really important. And that’s why I’m not going to have my picture taken with a bunch kids at the border.”

Now, sometimes, a literal reversal of meaning doesn’t work. But the key is to look at any statement he offers about others as an insight into his own mental state.

When Obama denounces cynicism, he’s actually being cynical. What he’s doing is expressing his frustration with people who are justifiably cynical about him. Why can’t you people fall for what I am saying!?

When he says he doesn’t care about “politics,” just problem-solving, what he’s really saying is he wants his political agenda to go unchallenged by other political agendas.

[...] whenever he says ideology and ideologues are a problem, what he’s actually saying is that competing ideologues and ideologies are the problem. That is, unless, you’re the sort of person who actually thinks Obama isn’t an ideologue, which is just adorable.

It’s not so much that he’s lying. Though if he were a Game of Thrones character, “Obama the Deceiver, First of His Name” would be a pretty apt formal title. No, he’s projecting. It’s an ego thing. I am fond of pointing out Obama’s insufficiently famous confession, “I actually believe my own bullsh*t.” What I like about it is that’s it’s like a verbal Escher drawing. He believes his own b.s. but by calling it b.s. he acknowledges it’s not believable. It’s like sarcastically insisting that you’re being serious. It’s earnest irony or ironic earnestness. If you take the statement too seriously, you could end up like android #1 in “I, Mudd.”

[...]

Anyway, I don’t take psychoanalysis, too seriously (“If you did, what would happen to me?” — The Couch). But I think Obama’s penchant for deriding his opponents as cynics and opportunists stems from the fact that he sees the world through precisely those sorts of prisms. But he tells himself he’s different because he does it for good purposes and besides, he’s so awesome his b.s. is true. No one knows if God can make a rock so heavy He can’t lift it, but Obama can sling such exquisite b.s. even he can believe. And because he believes it, he can’t tolerate the idea that others don’t.

Every President’s public image fades as his term of office runs down. It’s like the law of gravity … yet most of the media are still in love with the glamour of early-term Obama and keep hoping that somehow everyone else will believe hard enough with them that it will come back.

July 9, 2014

Britain’s latest moral panic enters the “proposing bad law” stage

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:40

Iain Martin says it’s now gotten to the point “where it is permissible to mention George Orwell and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four“:

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said earlier: “If someone consciously knows that there is a crime committed against a child, and does nothing about it because they put the reputation of the organisation above the safety of that child, that should be a criminal offence.”

“Consciously knows.” There’s an interesting phrase. It seems that the NSPCC sees this sanction applying only to people in positions of responsibility. But how can that be defined fairly in law? Will the new law only apply to the chief executive of a health trust, but not to the finance director or to the head of communications? It would be impossible to define such a law so narrowly. In time it would have to apply to anyone working in any organisation. And, surely it must also apply to anyone who comes into contact with said organisation and who might have heard that a crime has been committed? People often think they “consciously know” something when they have actually only heard it third-hand. If the idea is established that failure to pass on a wild rumour to the police is somehow illegal, it is not difficult to imagine what could go wrong.

[...]

If it is to become a crime to fail to report suspicions that child abuse is taking place, why should the new law not to be extended in time to all other areas of criminal activity? It could become illegal to fail to report to the police if you suspected that a fellow citizen had committed a crime, or might be about to. As someone wise on Twitter put it earlier: the historical precedents of states making it compulsory for citizens to report on their fellow citizens are not encouraging.

Political media and a growing lack of historical awareness

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:16

Mollie Hemingway says that media ignorance has become a serious problem:

The real problem is the arrogance that goes with the ignorance. Take Kate Zernike’s 2010 attempt at an expose of the ideas that motivate tea party activists that ran in the New York Times. She wrote:

    But when it comes to ideology, it has reached back to dusty bookshelves for long-dormant ideas. It has resurrected once-obscure texts by dead writers — in some cases elevating them to best-seller status — to form a kind of Tea Party canon.

Who are these obscure authors of long-dormant ideas? She points to Friedrich Hayek, for one. Yes, the same Hayek who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1974 and died way, way back in … 1992. Whose Road To Serfdom was so obscure that it has never been out of print and was excerpted in Reader’s Digest, that obscure publication with only 17 million readers. The article doesn’t get around to actually providing any insight into these activists’ philosophy and it’s probably a good thing considering that this is what she has to say about “the rule of law”:

    Ron Johnson, who entered politics through a Tea Party meeting and is now the Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin, asserted that the $20 billion escrow fund that the Obama administration forced BP to set up to pay damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill circumvented “the rule of law,” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.”

Oh dear. Where to begin? How about with the fact that “rule of law” is not Hayek’s term. The concept goes back to, well, the beginning of Western Civilization and the term was popularized by a 19th century British jurist and constitutional theorist named A.V. Dicey. It’s not an unwritten code, by definition. The idea that this would be an obscure concept to someone says everything about Zernike and the team at the New York Times and precisely nothing about Ron Johnson or Hayek or that sector of citizens of the United States who retain support for the rule of law.

A few weeks ago, David Brat beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a stunning upset. The media didn’t handle it well. You might say they freaked out. Among other things, reporters sounded the alarm about a phrase Brat used in his writings that, they said, suggested he was a dangerous extremist: “The government holds a monopoly on violence. Any law that we vote for is ultimately backed by the full force of our government and military.” As National Review‘s Charles C.W. Cooke noted:

    “Unusual” and “eye-opening” was the New York Daily News’s petty verdict. In the Wall Street Journal, Reid Epstein insinuated darkly that the claim cast Brat as a modern-day fascist. And, for his part, Politico‘s Ben White suggested that the candidate’s remarks “on Neitzsche and the government monopoly on violence don’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Unusual, eye-opening, and non-sensical, perhaps, to people who had never studied what government is. But that group shouldn’t include political reporters, who could reasonably be expected to have passing familiarity with German sociologist Max Weber’s claim that “the modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination. It has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory.”

Or take the Los Angeles Times‘ David Savage, who argued just last week that the Supreme Court’s decisions under Chief Justice John Roberts “rely on well-established rights, such as freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, but extend those rights for the first time to corporations, wealthy donors and conservatives.” Perhaps it’s just poorly written. Surely a man who has been responsible for informing Californians about the Supreme Court since 1986 doesn’t actually believe that conservatives, corporations or wealthy donors were not covered by the Bill of Rights until John Roberts came along. As James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal notes, “that is as ignorant as it is tendentious.”

July 8, 2014

Understatement of the day – “Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

In the Telegraph, Iain Martin tries to put this summer’s British media hysteria/witch hunt into a bit of perspective:

Anyone who expresses astonishment about the wave of recent revelations and allegations centred on the conduct of assorted entertainers and celebrities from the Seventies must have been lacking access to a television set, if they are genuinely shocked. In that decade, and on into the Eighties, even the most successful and least funny comedy programme rested mainly on one joke, which involved a man in a raincoat chasing around bikini-clad young women. Back then the work of Benny Hill was regarded as family entertainment, and groping, sexual incontinence and jokes about the corruption of innocence were the staples of countless other comedians. It would be surprising – really, wouldn’t it? – if a minority of twisted, power-crazed people working in “entertainment” intent on sexual abuse hadn’t exploited the opportunity to do terrible harm.

Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place. The sexual revolution (largely an elite project of the Sixties, which did not go mainstream until later) had produced a bizarre popular culture hybrid. In the Seventies, the British saucy postcard tradition, always darker than it looked, featuring cheeky innuendo, collided with a crazed mood of supposed sexual liberation. The message pushed out in some sitcoms and other forms of popular entertainment was that everyone was permanently at “it” and that any woman resisting “it” was a prude or a relic of a bygone era. Questions of license, consent and desirability became hopelessly confused. This was the dark flip side of the numerous benefits which came with the abandonment of the old, stifling constraints imposed on both sexes.

To make matters even more hazardous, Britain in the Seventies was a country wobbling on the verge of a transition. The population’s over-reliance on deference and a blind faith in the virtues of authority had already been tested in the Suez disaster and in the Profumo scandal of 1963, although it had not collapsed entirely. Parents still operated on the assumption that fellow adults in positions of power were likely to be trustworthy, and the majority were. But thanks to scandals revealed since involving schools, churches, children’s homes, the BBC, the Scouts and so on, we know that some individuals and networks of paedophiles exploited that trust, again to do terrible harm.

The hound pack of the media is in full cry, and that urge to convict before trial is overwhelming common sense and propriety.

But increasingly we seem less interested in due process – as a protection against miscarriage of justice or to prevent a bad precedent being established – than we do in the excitement of the moment and urgent demands for a government “inquiry” which must usually be “over-arching”. These inquiries are now an industry in themselves, although curiously the one area that probably deserved it (the banking collapse presided over by the political class which triggered the worst downturn in 80 years) was not given a proper inquiry. Funny that.

On Westminster child abuse, the risk was identified by Claire Fox speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme earlier. She said that rumour is already becoming confused with evidence. All manner of claims are now being aired and reported as though they are fact. “Twenty members of the Establishment,” “ministers” and unnamed “leading figures” are accused of dark and sinister deeds. Alongside those making genuine allegations, anyone with a claim will get on air at the moment, any crank or fantasist who wants to attract attention or settle scores will cry that they are being ignored or suppressed if the broadcasters will not give them a platform immediately. It would be a brave BBC producer who would decline right now.

July 7, 2014

The BBC losing its balance over climate reporting

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Matt Ridley on the BBC’s loss of balance:

The BBC’s behaviour grows ever more bizarre. Committed by charter to balanced reporting, it has now decided formally that it was wrong to allow balance in a debate between rival guesses about the future. In rebuking itself for having had the gall to interview Nigel Lawson on the Today programme about climate change earlier this year, it issued a statement containing this gem: “Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling and scientific research.”

The evidence from computer modelling? The phrase is an oxymoron. A model cannot, by definition, provide evidence: it can provide a prediction to test against real evidence. In the debate in question, Lord Lawson said two things: it was not possible to attribute last winter’s heavy rain to climate change with any certainty, and the global surface temperature has not warmed in the past 15 to 17 years. He was right about both, as his debate opponent, Sir Brian Hoskins, confirmed.

As for the models, here is what Dr Vicky Pope of the Met Office said in 2007 about what their models predicted: “By 2014, we’re predicting that we’ll be 0.3 degrees warmer than 2004. Now just to put that into context, the warming over the past century and a half has only been 0.7 degrees, globally … So 0.3 degrees, over the next ten years, is pretty significant … These are very strong statements about what will happen over the next ten years.”

In fact, global surface temperature, far from accelerating upwards, has cooled slightly in the ten years since 2004 on most measures. The Met Office model was out by a country mile. But the BBC thinks that it was wrong even to allow somebody to challenge the models, even somebody who has written a bestselling book on climate policy, held one of the highest offices of state and founded a think-tank devoted to climate change policy. The BBC regrets even staging a live debate between him and somebody who disagrees with him, in which he was robustly challenged by the excellent Justin Webb (of these pages).

And why, pray, does the BBC think this? Because it had a complaint from a man it coyly describes as a “low-energy expert”, Mr Chit Chong, who accused Lord Lawson of saying on the programme that climate change was “all a conspiracy”.

Lawson said nothing of the kind, as a transcript shows. Mr Chong’s own curriculum vitae boasts that he “has been active in the Green party for 25 years and was the first Green councillor to be elected in London”, and that he “has a draught-proofing and insulation business in Dorset and also works as an environmental consultant”.

So let’s recap. On the inaccurate word of an activist politician with a vested financial and party interest, the BBC has decided that henceforth nobody must be allowed to criticise predictions of the future on which costly policies are based.

July 5, 2014

Did Rolf Harris face a kangaroo court?

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

I didn’t follow this particular case (or any of the recent British witch-hunting expeditions against former celebrities), but this post makes it seem as if at least some of the charges Harris was convicted of were remarkably flimsy:

Rolf Harris has been convicted and for many that is conclusive proof of his guilt. However, we should not forget that the British justice system is not perfect, it can make errors, as these high profile miscarriages of justice show.

I do not know if Rolf Harris committed the crimes he was accused of. However, I find the fact that he was convicted, based on the evidence reported by the BBC, alarming.

Let me explain why:

    COUNT ONE – VERDICT: GUILTY

    “The woman said she was aged seven or eight when she queued to get an autograph from Harris at a community centre in Hampshire in 1968 or 1969. When she reached the front of the queue, Harris had touched her inappropriately with his “big hairy hands”, she told the jury.

    The court heard that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre. He also showed his hands to the jury and denied they were hairy.”

When they say that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre, they don’t mean a cursory glance turned nothing up. They searched local newspaper archives between January 1967 and May 1974, council records and even conducted letter drops appealing for witnesses. Nothing, not a single piece of independent evidence that he was ever there!

It is hard to see how the uncorroborated recollection of an event alleged to have happened 45 years ago, when the witness was eight, can constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.

On another count of which Harris has been found guilty by the court:

So the accuser couldn’t remember when it happened (or how old she was), she couldn’t remember where it happened and yet the jury found her 36 year old memory of the indecent assault to be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt!

When we talk about the indecent assault we are not talking about something so traumatic, like rape, that it would understandably be burned into her memory. We are talking about a 17 year old having her bottom touched in the 1970′s, a time where bottom pinching was considered mainstream enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat.

Again, nobody who wasn’t there can be sure what Rolf Harris did or didn’t do in this case, but I know that there is an £11m incentive for people to make up accusations and without any corroborating evidence there has to be a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused.

I have no idea whether Harris is actually guilty of the accusations, but I’m astonished a court could convict based on such flimsy evidence. Clearly, at least in high profile media-related cases, the presumption of innocence has been replaced by a presumption of guilt.

July 3, 2014

Skeptical reading should be the rule for health news

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:49

We’ve all seen many examples of health news stories where the headline promised much more than the article delivered: this is why stories have headlines in the first place — to get you to read the rest of the article. This sometimes means the headline writer (except on blogs, the person writing the headline isn’t the person who wrote the story), knowing less of what went into writing the story, grabs a few key statements to come up with an appealing (or appalling) headline.

This is especially true with science and health reporting, where the writer may not be as fully informed on the subject and the headline writer almost certainly doesn’t have a scientific background. The correct way to read any kind of health report in the mainstream media is to read skeptically — and knowing a few things about how scientific research is (or should be) conducted will help you to determine whether a reported finding is worth paying attention to:

Does the article support its claims with scientific research?

Your first concern should be the research behind the news article. If an article touts a treatment or some aspect of your lifestyle that is supposed to prevent or cause a disease, but doesn’t give any information about the scientific research behind it, then treat it with a lot of caution. The same applies to research that has yet to be published.

Is the article based on a conference abstract?

Another area for caution is if the news article is based on a conference abstract. Research presented at conferences is often at a preliminary stage and usually hasn’t been scrutinised by experts in the field. Also, conference abstracts rarely provide full details about methods, making it difficult to judge how well the research was conducted. For these reasons, articles based on conference abstracts should be no cause for alarm. Don’t panic or rush off to your GP.

Was the research in humans?

Quite often, the ‘miracle cure’ in the headline turns out to have only been tested on cells in the laboratory or on animals. These stories are regularly accompanied by pictures of humans, which creates the illusion that the miracle cure came from human studies. Studies in cells and animals are crucial first steps and should not be undervalued. However, many drugs that show promising results in cells in laboratories don’t work in animals, and many drugs that show promising results in animals don’t work in humans. If you read a headline about a drug or food ‘curing’ rats, there is a chance it might cure humans in the future, but unfortunately a larger chance that it won’t. So there is no need to start eating large amounts of the ‘wonder food’ featured in the article.

How many people did the research study include?

In general, the larger a study the more you can trust its results. Small studies may miss important differences because they lack statistical “power”, and are also more susceptible to finding things (including things that are wrong) purely by chance.

[...]

Did the study have a control group?

There are many different types of studies appropriate for answering different types of questions. If the question being asked is about whether a treatment or exposure has an effect or not, then the study needs to have a control group. A control group allows the researchers to compare what happens to people who have the treatment/exposure with what happens to people who don’t. If the study doesn’t have a control group, then it’s difficult to attribute results to the treatment or exposure with any level of certainty.

Also, it’s important that the control group is as similar to the treated/exposed group as possible. The best way to achieve this is to randomly assign some people to be in the treated/exposed group and some people to be in the control group. This is what happens in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) and is why RCTs are considered the ‘gold standard’ for testing the effects of treatments and exposures. So when reading about a drug, food or treatment that is supposed to have an effect, you want to look for evidence of a control group and, ideally, evidence that the study was an RCT. Without either, retain some healthy scepticism.

June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones lessons learned by ISIS

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

I haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, but I’ve seen enough of it that James Delingpole‘s observations seem rather accurate:

Consider some of the Isis footage now doing the rounds on the internet. One video is filmed from the point of view of some young men in car, driving along a highway outside a town somewhere in northern Iraq, looking for cars to shoot up with their AK-47s. The innocent drivers clearly aren’t expecting this. By the time they’re aware what’s going on, it’s too late: soon, their bullet-riddled cars are veering off the roads, their dead or wounded drivers slumped at the wheel. Next, eager as puppies, out pop the jihadis to inspect the damage, gleefully filming their dying victims and then finishing them off. It’s like an episode of Grand Theft Auto Mosul, only acted out for real.

What kind of mindset do you need to carry out this kind of barbaric violence? Well I hesitate to say a “Medieval” one because then the Medievalists get all upset. But let’s agree shall we that it is a mindset almost completely alien to Western Judeo-Christian culture. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: the obvious one being Germany in World War II. At the risk of crudely generalising though, I’d say that however much society breaks down in the West I can’t ever see any of us reaching the point where we start machine gunning road users just for the sheer hell of it, any more than I can ever imagine us beheading or crucifying prisoners. We got all that stuff out of our system, over the centuries, in a succession of savage conflicts like the Thirty Years War and the Wars of The Roses.

It’s from the Wars of the Roses, of course, that George RR Martin gets a lot of his gory detail, including the kill-or-be-killed mindset of his protagonists. They don’t think like us because they don’t enjoy the luxury of living in a society as advanced as ours. What to us might seem like basic human decency would strike the Game of Thrones protagonists as fatal weakness. Hence, for example, the House Bolton’s practice of flaying its prisoners: a) a dead enemy is never going to kill you and b) it so terrifies your foes that — as Isis have found in Iraq — they would rather flee for their lives than face you in battle.

This kind of insight is, I’m sure, one of the main reasons why Game of Thrones has grown to achieve its status as unmissable, landmark television. Yes, of course, the fine acting, great locations, pert breasts and CGI dragons are a big draw too. But what really makes it stick out is that, unlike almost any other fiction set in the past, it chooses not to imbue its characters with the liberal values of the present. This brutal honesty is at once exhilaratingly novel but also deeply unsettling, for it opens a window onto a world where people may look like us and apparently share the same hopes, dreams and fears as us, but where the progressive pieties to which we’ve become accustomed in the post-war years simply don’t apply. Not only do they not apply but they actually look foolish, counterproductive, suicidal.

June 4, 2014

Gavin McInnes gives a shout-out to the Rebel Alliance

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:07

No, he really did:

Gave a shout out to the Rebel Alliance on Fox last night. They are a group of kids in the future who live in the sewers like Ninja Turtles and refuse to pay our bloated pensions. That’s the problem with all this talk of the debt we’re saddling our children with. It assumes they’re going to pay it.

What if they just say, “Fuck off” like they do in Costa Rica? The taxes are too high there so most people just refuse to pay. When everyone does it, the government can’t do anything about it. This next generation is tech-savvy enough to create their own currency and barter their own exchanges and the sewers they live in won’t be gross. They’ll be like a cool teen’s bedroom from 1990.

H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.

May 31, 2014

“The smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria, immediately followed by permanent insanity”

Filed under: Government, Health, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:29

Paula Bolyard says that this collection of TV public service announcements from the 1970s may go a long way to explain why as parents they obsessively over-protect their kids (the Millenial generation). I loved this one:

In an effort to communicate a hip-sounding anti-drug message that teens could relate to, this PSA probably achieved the opposite of its intended effect. It made drugs seem fun and cool and glamorized drug use more than demonizing it.

Here are some gems from this hilarious PSA:

    I know what you’re thinking. What is marijuana? What makes it so dangerous? Where can I get some marijuana? Well, brother, I’m not going to nickle and dime you. I’m not like ‘the man’ all you kids are rebelling against. I’m hip. I know what young people are dealing with these days.

Yes, he actually said “nickle and dime you.”

    Rolled in Zig Zags or puffed from 7th period wood shop projects, the smoke from this plant causes a brief state of euphoria, immediately followed by permanent insanity. Users are prone to unpredictable behavior including junk food binges, joy rides, and a sudden urge to wear sunglasses at night.

At long last I now know why my brother was so interested in wood shop in junior high.

    Long term use of marijuana can lead to a psychological dependency. Soon you’ll be taking all sorts of measures to get your fix. People will start calling you names like ‘pothead’ or ‘Smokie McBongwater.’ Losing all motivation, it’s likely that you will drop out of school take a sudden liking to sitar music and maybe even get felt up by a cop or two.

This explains basically everything about the 70s.

    Is marijuana really where it’s at? Is it really as righteous as you think? There is more to life than grass. There are fulfilling careers and grrrr000vy beach parties. The closer you look the more seeds you find in your stash. Follow your hopes and dreams. Be someone. Do yourself and your country a favor. Don’t let this happen to you.

Raise your hand if you’re convinced.

Shock, horror! Ezra Levant’s publisher took government grants!

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:21

In the Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt looks at the rise and rise of Ezra Levant and finishes with what he clearly thinks is a “gotcha” moment:

… for a man who seems to have studied his American forebears so extensively, he has failed utterly to learn how to mimic the persuasive charms of a Bill O’Reilly or the wackadoodle authenticity of a Glenn Beck. He has a genuinely nasty streak that flares up in his attacks – on the Roma people, for example – that have landed him in hot water with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

He seems less interested in free speech than in listening to his own speech. Perhaps fatally, he has no visible sense of humour about himself.

In Groundswell, he has great fun mocking one of his favourite targets: Hollywood stars, whom he accuses of gross hypocrisy for promoting environmental causes while flying around in private jets. He points to Matt Damon’s anti-fracking drama Promised Land, which was backed in part by financing from the United Arab Emirates. And he mocks Josh Fox, the director of the anti-fracking documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2, for being a one-time New York-based actor.

Yet there is more than enough hypocrisy to go around: Levant is a critic of government support whose books have been published by a company that took plenty of government money until a recent change in ownership precluded the practice; a free-marketeer who works for a network that spent months last year trying to convince regulators to let it extract a monthly payment from every TV subscriber in the land.

At one point in Groundswell, Levant suggests activists are primarily driven by the salaries they receive. It’s a worldview that is so breathtakingly cynical that we’re left to wonder if Levant himself would blithely change his position for a fatter paycheque. If true, what kind of free-speech champion is that?

As far as the publisher collecting government money … most of the Canadian publishing business does that. It’s an unusual publishing company that manages to avoid suckling at that particular teat. Sun TV’s campaign for a better placement in cable TV packages certainly didn’t show the company in a good light, but the regulators have deliberately created a two-class system for cable, with the favoured channels required in each cable offering (a subsidy-by-another-name) and the disfavoured ones excluded. Sun TV could have taken the high road, but they’d have gone out of business for no purpose, and it wouldn’t have changed the system at all. (Full disclosure: I don’t watch Sun TV, although I have read a couple of Levant’s books.)

May 22, 2014

How politicians are like soccer goalkeepers

Filed under: Media, Politics, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:33

At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Stephen Gordon talks about the odd distribution of goalie decisions on penalty kicks and how they’re quite similar to politicians:

Goaltenders jumped in more than 90% penalty kicks in the sample: the frequency of staying put was only 6.3%. Kickers, on the other hand, distributed their targets in roughly equal proportions.

The goaltenders’ strategy was not wholly ineffective: when the kicker aimed left or right (71.4% of the time), goaltenders guessed correctly 6 times out of 11. But the fact remains that the frequency of the goaltender staying put (6.3%) is much smaller that the frequency of kicks aimed down the middle (28.7%).

[...]

This doesn’t mean that goaltenders should never jump. What it does mean is that goaltenders jump far too often. Why?

Bar-Eli et al suggest an explanation: ‘action bias’. This is presented as an example of Kahneman and Miller’s (1986) [PDF] ‘norm bias’. Goaltenders believe is is less bad to follow the ‘norm’ (i.e., to jump) and fail than to not jump and fail. In other words, goaltender think that jumping and missing is less costly than not jumping and missing.

Which brings us to economic policy. Politicians are continually demanded to ‘do something’ about a kaleidoscopic array of grievances, and the norm in these cases is to promise to do something. As far as politicians and most voters are concerned, doing something is better than doing nothing — even when doing nothing is the correct response.

In many cases — possibly the majority of cases — doing nothing is the smart move. A recent example is the concern about the so-called ‘skill shortage’. When firms complain that they can’t get the workers they want at the wages they are willing to pay, the correct response is to do nothing: the market response to a labour shortage is to let wages increase.

But doing nothing is almost always bad politics: it is invariably interpreted as a lack of concern, and this perceived indifference will be pounced upon by other political parties. A politician who promises to act polls better than one who promises to do nothing.

A goalkeeper who fails to jump looks like an idiot if the ball goes left or right. The fans roar their disapproval and the keeper learns that doing the dramatic-but-wrong thing is better for his reputation than the non-dramatic (but more likely to be correct) non-action. Politicians also learn that the media will turn themselves purple denouncing the lack of action (even when that’s the correct decision) and short-term polling numbers move in the wrong direction.

As Calvin Coolidge is reported to have said, “Don’t just do something; stand there.” But even if you’re right not to take action, it will be harder to bear up under the criticism of the “do something” crowd.

May 20, 2014

The “Pentagon News Channel” turns on its master

Filed under: Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:06

J. Neil Schulman talks about a recent Fox News commentary by Liz Trotta, which excoriated the Secretary of Defense:

I’ve been aware for a long time that commentators on the Fox News Channel get away with the most extremely jingoistic, the most atavistic, the most bigoted opinions in weekend commentaries that would make even the average weekday Fox viewer cringe.

But the commentary quoted above from FNC‘s Liz Trotta managed to surprise even me.

My friend, Brad Linaweaver, calls Fox News the Pentagon Channel because of all the 24-hour news channels Fox is the one that tends to support the agenda of those who find the Pentagon’s ungodly budget always too small, no projection of military force anywhere in the world too unattractive, and no invasion of privacy or restriction of liberty unnecessary. After seeing lively debates on Fox on all these subjects — often dragging in quasi-libertarians like Senator Rand Paul or in-house personalities like Bob Beckel or Kennedy to take the opposition — I’d have to say that Brad is being only slightly sardonic.

But unquestionably Fox, like much of the degraded talk-radio right today, has adopted the worst propaganda techniques that used to be the patented reserve of party-line Communists and World War II era Nazis. It’s a perfect storm of spinning half truths or facts presented in a misleading context, tunnel-vision ideology, and ad hominem slurs replacing reasoned discourse.

This was the technique perfected by Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, but for those not a student of history like Mr. Linaweaver, one needs go no further than the average anonymous Internet troll to find this level of vile attack.

In the above commentary Ms. Trotta manages to conflate the Veterans Administration — which does not treat active military — with the Army’s healthcare policies for active-duty military, and conflates both with the Affordable Care Act that addresses only civilian medical care.

Ms. Trotta manages to forget that homosexuals now serve openly in the U.S. military forces so a “feckless” Defense Secretary (who as an Army volunteer serving in combat earned two Purple Hearts) considering extending this policy to transgenders isn’t that much of a stretch.

But Ms. Trotta — in both managing to dismiss “gender dysphoria” as a treatable medical condition while simultaneously dismissing transgendering as a passing fashion — also does not know or chooses to ignore that as late as 1973 the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in its official diagnostic manual as a mental illness.

May 19, 2014

Exercising your ears – accents in Sherlock

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

I’m a fan of the ongoing BBC series Sherlock starring Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (or “Cummerband Bandersnatch” as his name seems to cause the yips in some people). At Firestorm over London there’s a brief discussion of British accents in general, and the specific variants in use among the actors in the show:

An introduction to the rich variety of British accents and an analysis of accents used in Sherlock. I explore the distinctive regional accents and of course the ubiquitous BBC pronunciation, what the accents can tell us about the characters. A short, not too serious guide by someone who has no linguistics expertise.

Islands of Contrast

An accent for the purposes of this essay is a manner of pronunciation that is particular to an individual, community or location.

The British Isles are geographically small but the accents that have evolved are incredibly diverse. I grew up in the North West of England where, even though the motorway links are brilliant, travelling a mere 60 miles or so will completely change the accents that you hear.

The most ubiquitous accent in the UK is BBC pronunciation. It used to be called “Received Pronunciation” but that term has fallen out of favour. If you’ve ever watched BBC News or listened to the English programs on the BBC World Service that is the accent I am referring to. This is not a regional accent — although it is more common in South of England. When people in the UK say that someone doesn’t have an accent, they really mean the person uses BBC pronunciation.

I haven’t been back to visit England in several years, but on my last few visits the number of times I heard RP seemed fewer than any regional accent everywhere we went. Even the BBC News presenters all seemed to have regional accents rather than speaking in RP. I’m originally from Middlesbrough, which boasts one of the least attractive regional accents you’ll ever hear (the closest you’d find would be a Newcastle “Geordie” accent … but less comprehensible). It’s been so long since I lived there that I now have trouble understanding it myself…

Many fans have identified Mycroft Holmes’ accent as “posh”. There is not an official “posh accent” — and even if there was Mycroft Holmes does not have it.

Posh is a very subjective description. Where I grew up anyone who didn’t have a regional accent was “posh”. After coming to University in the South, I have realised that BBC pronunciation is not considered “posh” but “standard”. Posh was defined as the rather over-exaggerated accent people often use to pantomime the rich. There are a small minority of people who have that stereotypical accent but “posh” on its own is not a very good way of describing anyone’s accent.

If we are going to talk about poshness — I believe it’s better to view it as a “gradation of poshness” which is superimposed on BBC pronunciation, rather than a distinct “posh accent”.

BBC pronunciation and the “gradation of poshness” are not good reflectors of social status in today’s society.

Traditionally BBC pronunciation was considered the preserve of the middle classes. It was something that set you apart from the common masses with their regional accents. I wouldn’t say that class has no role in today’s society, but BBC pronunciation itself has become less of a hallmark of class. Many people who would identify themselves as working class do not have a regional accent, whilst the middle-classes are more accepting of regional accents. The BBC has worked hard to introduce presenters with regional accents onto prime time television. Therefore it is hard to judge the social status of a person purely based on how “posh” they sound. Their accent will not always match your expectations of their material circumstances.

[...]

John Watson

John had me rather puzzled but my conclusion is that his accent qualifies as BBC pronunciation but unlike Mycroft or Sherlock, he has not superimposed any of those “upper class” vowels on his pronunciation. For example his “a” vowel sounds are much shorter as evidenced in words such as “pass”. John is a much better presentation of what a great number of people in the UK actually sound like.

Here is an amusing map of how the “a” vowel varies in pronunciation between different geographic areas:

British pronunciation of the letter a

John fits in very much with the blue group. His rendition of the “a” vowel is still correct and technically BBC pronunciation. However it is considered less “posh” than pronouncing the “a” vowel as “ah”.

His rhythm of speech and accentuations within words may contribute to the overall impression that his accent is different to Sherlock’s. This is true because Sherlock doesn’t have exact BBC pronunciation and neither does John. Though they deviate in different ways I would say their accents overall qualify as BBC pronunciation. It is certainly hard to pinpoint a location for the original of John’s accent.

H/T to ESR, who asked about the Sherlock accents on Google+ (the link to Firestorm was provided in the comments to his post).

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